A counselling tool I often use in early sessions is a ‘Life Graph’. As a counsellor this helps me to understand more about your history, and start to unpick how events in your life have contributed to the development of the person that presents before me in the session. It helps to give a good overview so that together we can start to choose which parts of your life we need to explore in further detail. We can identify patterns and make connections between different events and particular traits you may have identified in yourself.
For the individual doing the exercise, it enables you to look at the experiences in your life from a more objective, birds eye point of view. Having lived your life, it may seem perfectly ordinary to you, however, it’s completely different to my life, and everyone else’s. Doing this exercise may remind you of events you have forgotten or don’t deem as significant.
Draw a horizontal line across a blank sheet of paper. This line represents the passing of time. The origin in the left corner is the day you were born. As you consider your life, mark significant life events on your life line, marking the positive experiences above the line, and negatives below the line. You could make the lines longer or place the experiences higher or lower on the graph to demonstrate the intensity of the experience. You can personalise the way you do this exercise to suit you. You may wish to choose different colours for different themes. You could draw pictures or add particular emotions that were present at different stages in your life. You could either add events as you remember them, or you could go through in date order and try and complete the life line for every stage in your life. Ensure you include as much detail as possible, as though you were trying to replay your entire life to a stranger.
Once you have completed the life line go through the following questions to provoke further thought about the exercise.
- How do you feel having completed the life line?
- Have you recognised any patterns in the events?
- Which events feel the most significant?
- Have you been able to pinpoint periods in your life that have caused/contributed to particular personality traits?
- Have you been surprised by anything that’s come out of doing the exercise?
Just to give a brief example of how valuable this exercise can be, the following is a made up case study of some client work.
Olivia (24) was experiencing anxiety and unsure why. Upon doing the time line she shared that she had experienced three significant bereavements in her late teens. In seeing her experience in front of her in black and white she recognised that she had dealt with multiple significant losses in a very short space of time at her young age. Whilst objectively this may seem obvious, when it’s been your own life, you don’t necessarily appreciate the impact of particular events as you are living them as life moves on and you get on with things.
This is clearly a simplified example but it just gives you an idea of what this exercise can help you to do (either as personal development or whilst working with a client).
If you feel that you might find it helpful to go through this exercise and explore some of your life experiences that you may be struggling with, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to see whether counselling might be an option for you.